Thursday, February 20, 2014

Manca una settimana! (one week to go!)

With one week to departure, I am reminded of other meaningful and challenging moments I have experienced when living/traveling abroad. …

When I was in my second year at New College of Florida, I did a semester-long, service learning program in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Just a day or two after arrival, I went shopping for supplies with my Ecuadorian host family and a new, gringa friend participating in the same program. My new friend, who didn't speak a word of Spanish and had not previously traveled overseas, broke down crying somewhere in the middle of the shampoo aisle.

My host brother, who was about 10 years old, looked at her like she was crazy, and then looked at me for an explanation. All I could say was, "Sometimes it's hard to live in another country". To my friend's credit, she stayed the term and immersed herself in the language and culture. She left speaking Spanish fluently and had a wonderful time. Thanks to social media, we are still in touch.

Sometimes it is hard living in another culture. It's exhausting trying to communicate all day in a language that is not rolling smoothly off your tongue, never knowing exactly where you are going, wondering how reliable the answers to your imperfectly formed questions may be.

At the same time, the constant ambiguity makes you more patient, and more open to adventure… if you don't understand the directions, you get lost. When you get lost, you discover new places. If you are open to the unexpected, you may be pleasantly surprised. I am so looking forward to these ambiguous moments in Italy. Challenging as they may be, I will embrace them, grateful for the adventure. As we say in espa├▒ol, "Caminante no hay camino; se hace camino al andar". I wonder how to express that in Italian…

       Lost in Belgrade, Serbia, Aug. 2012. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

It's official: I'm going to Italy!

This blog is about multiculturalism, multilingualism, and my adventures as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Padua, Italy (Universit├á degli studi di Padova). You don't have to speak another language fluently to be bilingual. All you need is the opportunity to use another language and the desire to communicate with it: as one of my students said, the willingness to "get it on your hands".

I have spent the last few years researching bilingual language, literacy, and identity of teen English learners in the U.S. Thanks to a Fulbright Junior Research Award, I now have the opportunity to explore the bilingual writing of Italian high school students learning English as a second language.

My fascination with bilingual language and identity comes from my own experiences. I learned Spanish as a second language, beginning in middle school. My first adventure overseas was a trip to the south of Chile, when I was 18. A college student, I traveled alone to stay with a friend and do an independent study project during the January term at New College of Florida. Just the flight there changed me. Before I awoke to a glorious view of the Andes (the first time I had ever seen mountains), I contemplated a conversation with the Chilean passenger next to me. We had spoken in Spanish. He had suggested that I change my name to something easier for people to pronounce, something that didn't sound so foreign. He suggested I introduce myself to people as "Andrea".

I did not follow this stranger's suggestion; however, I remember wondering deeply about this problem. How would I ever fit in in Chile if people couldn't understand or pronounce my name? Since then, and during various, other short- (one week) and long-term (five years) living experiences in other countries, as well as in many conversations with first- and second-generation immigrant students who have participated in my research, I have continued to inquire about how people balance fitting in and keeping true to themselves, adapting and maintaining a sense of self, when living in another culture, speaking another language.

So it's time for another adventure! I depart in two weeks, and I have just four months in Padua to get my conversational Italian up to academic speed, conduct a research project, and be a culture chameleon in Italy. This blog will be about the multilingual and multicultural experiences, insights, and inquiries that come to life during the Fulbright experience. I am ready! Sono pronta. Andiamo!